We are now in week 4 of this global lockdown. Some of us may have even started to feel normal, whilst others remain in a constant struggle. You might not even know where you stand, I certainly don't. One day I feel very positive and am able to be productive, whereas other days it's like I'm carrying an invisible weight. I can't control how each day is, but I can control my response.
There are, essentially, two ways to respond to a 'bad' day; fight or accept. That may seem overly simplistic, but in all the current confusion and uncertainty, it's ok and necessary to simplify.
What a 'fight' day looks like for me: I spend the last ounces of my paltry energy reserves that day on teaching, which I'm ok with as what I do is service, but then I try to have an intensely productive day. I use the word intense, because that seems to be my numbing tool for when I feel those sad/angry/lonely/bored/helpless emotions creep in. Intensity is where my addict energy comes in. Not all addictions have to be centred around substance (although mine would probably be food, if you count that), but control and over-working is also a form of addiction. Being in addict mode is doing anything to numb and suppress emotions. My fight day sees me trying to push beyond limits, whether physically or mentally, and fuel my body poorly at the same time, with nutritionally empty foods and not enough rest. I end the day exhausted yet unsatisfied, sound familiar?
Then there's acceptance. This one is harder and makes the day feel a lot longer, but you come out feeling much better for it. At the beginning of this lockdown I was fighting my 'bad' days with everything I had, but recently I've been able to sit with them a bit more. The reason I put the word bad in quotation marks is because emotions like sadness, anger and loneliness aren't bad or wrong. Our emotions are a full and necessary spectrum that allow us to live life in full colour. If you deny emotions you perceive to be negative then you actually perpetuate them, whilst dimming the more desirable end of the spectrum. Plus there is a lot of beauty to be found in the most difficult emotions.
So, how do we produce beauty from the darkness? This is where vulnerability comes in. The 'I'm fine' mask is heavy and a lot of people are wearing theirs right now. I feel like if you can have the courage to take yours off, not only do you allow yourself to be really seen by others, but you inspire the same courage in them. Now is both a really difficult and really easy time to do this. Why is it difficult? For the same reason it's always been difficult; because we confuse vulnerability with weakness, which is a huge misconception. There's a great deal of courage that goes into opening yourself up without knowledge of the outcome, whereas when our wall is up we may appear robust, but really we are hiding, and therefore blocking ourselves.
Why is it now easy? Because we are in an unprecedented time in which we are ALL going through it. There is less of a reason to pretend because pretty much the entire world is in the midst of a pandemic. No, not everyone is in the same boat (/yacht). Yes, 'smugsolation' and the parading of ones privilege on social media is rife, but that too is a form of hiding. Whilst there are those not struggling with resources, they are, probably unconsciously, aware of the global plight of many, and are using displays of wealth, privilege and judgement to mask their fear. Even if I am doing ok, I'm not really ok because there's so much suffering in the world at the moment, and I am firmly of the belief that if one of us hurts, we all do. I felt this before the pandemic, but I feel it more now. Sometimes my down days are a response to how much turmoil we, as a global community, are in.
This period is going to run its messy course either way. How can you stay open throughout and have the courage, when, not only is it more permitted but also necessary, to be vulnerable and transparent? How I've been able to do this is through yoga and all the inner work I have discovered as a result. Simply attending a yoga class in a studio (or online) probably won't get you there straight away, but the self inquiry a good yoga teacher and class inspires can certainly open a portal to finding strength in your softness.
Something else my yoga practice has offered me is the chance to live in and express my gratitude daily. Gratitude can be felt even when times are tough, perhaps even more so. Do you ever catch yourself thinking fondly of the simplicity of catching the awkward eye of a commuter on the tube, of brushing past another body, of contact full stop? The next time you feel that, write it down, sit with the warmth of emotions it brings up. That is the simple joy of allowing yourself to feel gratitude. It is so simple and completely free, but it is a practice that needs to be maintained. Every night before you go to bed, mentally list three things you are grateful for, however simple, in fact sometimes better that they are simple; think, 'I am grateful for more time, for the environment getting a breather so it can better hold me, for a person I love' etc. Then, upon waking, remind yourself of those three things. You would be amazed at the effect this has on your day. Even when obstacles arise, as they always will, throughout the day, once your gratitude practice is deeply ingrained in your psyche it becomes a little bit easier to face those obstacles with awareness of the bigger picture.
This is a form of practicing yoga itself, as we know yoga doesn't only happen in asana, in fact it happens every moment of ever day. To truly experience the full spectrum of yoga's benefits, you must be willing to dedicate your awareness to every moment. So, in times when it is easier to shut down, to hide and to give in to the false shields of judgement and fear, make a promise to yourself to show up and remain in this constant practice. Not only will your ability to show vulnerability and to remember the good around you offer a lightness of being, but it will inspire the same in others. Heal yourself, and so heal the world.